What can we expect the New England Patriots roster to look like after training camp? Should we expect some trades before the season kicks off?
Phil Perry answers your questions in his latest Patriots mailbag.
What better way to kick off a pre-camp mailbag than to figure out who is going to be traded?!? It’s a good question, though, Brady. And we know the Patriots are always looking to improve so maybe their depth at running back allows them an avenue in that pursuit.
Earlier this week we dug into the Patriots backfield and pointed out just how crowded it appears to be. If Rhamondre Stevenson can play, if Damien Harris can stay healthy, then Sony Michel could end up being the odd man out. Typically, there just isn’t room for three early-down backs — particularly if there isn’t a lot of special teams value between them — on most NFL rosters.
If the Patriots opted to trade Michel to the Rams or anyone else, I think you have the return in a deal about right. It would likely be a Day 3 choice headed back to New England.
When Kenyan Drake was dealt by the Dolphins to the Cardinals — and that trade happened mid-season with Drake in the final year of his rookie contract — Miami only received a conditional sixth-rounder in return. Unlike Michel, whose injury issues have been well-documented since before the 2018 draft, Drake hadn’t missed a game in three seasons. But Drake also hadn’t had a season where he cracked 700 yards, whereas Michel surpassed 900 in his first two seasons as a pro.
Another recent comp for a possible Michel trade would be when Miami dealt a fifth-rounder to San Francisco in return for running back Matt Breida. Like Drake, Breida hadn’t exactly been a workhorse back for an extended period like Michel had. But in 2018 he started 13 games and rushed for 814 yards for the Niners. He’d missed only three games through three seasons.
Breida may be the better comp because, like Michel, he was only under contract for one year at the time. He’d been given a second-round tender by the Niners, worth over $3 million. Still, he was dealt during the 2020 draft. Michel is scheduled to make $1.8 million in base salary this year, a figure that would travel with him in a trade.
The question for the Patriots is this: Would it be worth it to deal a running back right now for a fifth or sixth-round pick? The more prudent move might be to wait until the end of training camp, see how Stevenson plays, see what the team’s injury situation is, and then revisit the possibility of making a move.
I think they signed Nelson Agholor to be much more than a diversion, Jack. That’s what his contract would tell you. He’s being paid like a top-25 receiver. If the Patriots were going for a speed option on the outside who’d run straight down the field and draw safety eyeballs occasionally, they could’ve held onto Damiere Byrd.
That said, the fact that Agholor is coming off a season in which he was one of the most explosive players at his position on a per-catch basis should make him a safety magnet and help open things up for the tight ends. But Agholor will also need to be someone who separates on third down and in the two-minute offense. He has to win his share of one-on-one matchups — both down the field and in the short-to-intermediate area to live up to his new deal.
Hey, Ari. I think there’s room for a bunch. Start with guys I’d consider to be locks: Dont’a Hightower, Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Kyle Van Noy and Ronnie Perkins. Then there’s Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich and Raekwon McMillan. I had them all on my post-minicamp 53-man roster.
There’s a good mix there between inside and outside linebackers as well as a handful of players who could play both spots. Since the team has shifted to more of a 3-4 style in the last few years, they’ve kept a lot of ‘backers and I think this year you’ll see more of the same.
They’ve been a top-10 scoring defense since 2011. Every year. With this group? If Gilmore’s back. They should be a top-five group.
I think it’s Smith and I’m not sure it’s close. He’s a more dynamic athlete and should be able to produce more explosive plays with the ball in his hands. I think he also has more alignment versatility to mess with defenses, which could lead to assignment breakdowns from opponents and additional big plays.
Henry may end up being more productive as a steadier pass-catcher; he’s surpassed 470 yards every season he’s taken the field whereas Smith has never cracked that number. But in terms of raw ability and upside, Smith has more, in my opinion. I think the Patriots feel the same way and it’s reflected in their contracts. Smith got more than $6 million more in fully guaranteed dollars this offseason.
I’m not sure the Patriots will be able to trade Harry so he may end up being released at some point, but here’s how I see the receiver depth chart shaking out: Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski. That’s it. And there will be weeks when receivers No. 3 and 4, whoever they are, are barely involved in the game plan.
If you want to use 2011 as a guide for how this offense looked with two tight ends as centerpieces, you’ll see the receiver contributions outside of the top two were very limited. Wes Welker was a monster (1,569 yards). Deion Branch was solid (702 yards). Chad Johnson was the No. 3 wideout (276 yards). The fourth-most productive wideout that season was Slater (46 yards). The Patriots don’t have a single wideout on Welker’s level this season so the targets should be spread out a bit more in 2021, but there just aren’t going to be many footballs to go around to this group should both tight ends remain healthy.
Would be interesting to see what Winovich would fetch the Patriots in a trade. The Giants dealt edge defender Markus Golden to the Cardinals last year for a sixth-round pick. Golden has had more sack production (averaged 7.25 over his first four healthy seasons, including a 10-sack season in 2019) than Winovich (5.5 average over two seasons). But Golden was older and more expensive at the time. I think a Day 3 choice would be reasonable for Winovich, who still has two years left on his rookie deal.
My guess is Steve Belichick will remain the one who calls the plays but that he and Jerod Mayo will both have a lot of say in how the defense gets executed. Of course they’ll both be answering to Bill Belichick and consulting with him often.
Yes. If he stays healthy, I could see him taking on the role Michel had in 2019 (when Michel played all 16 games). That would mean approaching 250 carries. He’s their most talented back and I believe they’ll ride him as much as they can so long as he holds up.
Think that will be a work in progress, Paul, as it tends to be for new receivers in this system. That said, the moments where Patriots receivers were clearly confused in the spring were few and far between. We’ll get a better idea of where they are now that the teaching-heavy period of OTAs and minicamp is over. Time to hit the ground running.
I highly doubt it. They just went through the star-quarterback-at-the-end-of-his-career thing. That said! We never say never here when it relates to this team, and Rodgers’ base salary — which would travel with him in a trade — is not all that exorbitant for this coming season.
At just under $15 million, that’s a number the Patriots could probably find a way to fit onto their cap. Would Bill Belichick be willing to part with the picks necessary to get a deal done? After drafting a quarterback in the first round, thereby burying the young guy for multiple years? My guess would be no. Would be fun, though.